Three years ago, Sheryl Blackwell woke up in the middle of the night having heart palpitations, but the Iraq war veteran didn't worry about it right away.
"I thought, 'Oh, it's nothing. It will go away,' " the Ladson resident recollected. "The next night I found myself walking the floor feeling like my heart was jumping out of my chest. I was scared and, of course, had my husband take me to the (Medical University Hospital) emergency room."
But by the time she got to the ER, her symptoms had stopped and she worried the staff thought she was crazy.
Back at work as a certified surgical coder at the Medical University of South Carolina, she went back to the ER, was sent to cardiology and placed on a monitor. Within days, she was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, which -- if left untreated -- doubles the risk of a heart-related death and causes nearly a five-fold increased risk for stroke.
So far, her "afib" had been treated through medications, which also has allowed the 49-year-old to continue her service in the Air Force Reserve.
She is grateful to be alive and is showing her support for progress in cardiac care by joining co-workers in Saturday's American Heart Association 20th annual Lowcountry Heart Walk.
Katie Schumacher, co-director of the walk, said the association is expecting nearly 500 teams and a total of about 4,000 people to participate in the 3.3-mile walk from Liberty Square to The Battery and back. The local chapter's goal is to raise $600,000. Last year's event raised $533,000.
And while the Heart Walk and the Heart Ball raised a total of $833,000 for the association, the national organization provided $1.3 million to MUSC for research last year.
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death and disability in the United States, with more than 900,000 Americans dying every year.
What: The 20th Lowcountry Heart Walk is a 3.3-mile walk to raise awareness of heart disease and stroke and money for the American Heart Association
When: Registration starts at 8 a.m. Saturday. The walk begins at 9 a.m.
Where: Liberty Square in Charleston
How much: The walk does not have a registration fee, though participants are asked to raise money. Walkers who raise a minimum of $100 are eligible for a prize.
Who's expected: 500 teams and nearly 4,000 walkers of all ages
Fund-raising goal: $600,000
Last year's effort: $533,000
On the web: www.lowcountryscheartwalk.org